Oscar Nominee Interview: Director John Musker on His Favorite Shot in "I'm Hip" (Exclusive Interview)

With awards season in full swing, we asked the filmmakers of the 15 films nominated for this year's Academy Awards for Best Animated Short to share their favorite shots from their films and why. Each film is listed in the order in which the materials were received.

This piece features "I'm Hip" by animation legend John Musker, best known for directing (with Ron Clements) many of Disney's best-known animated feature films, including "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Hercules" and "Moana."

"I'm Hip" by animation legend John Musker.

"I'm Hip" is a short musical about a self-centered cat who tries a little too hard to convince the world of his "hipness." The jazzy film is based on the song "I'm Hip," written by Dave Frishberg and Bob Drew in the 1980s as part of a cabaret comedy.

Below are some of Musker's favorite shots from the short and why they are important to him:

This shot #35 is one of my favorites from my short "I'm Hip". The lyrics go like this: "A joint with a jive is fun." I wanted this cat to dance a fun, energetic jive with his girlfriend Imogen in a lively club with other dancers.

As with the other shots of the cat dancing, I took a live-action dance as a reference and loosely adapted it.

The choreographer was Mark Ballas, one of the most creative dancer/choreographer pros on the ABC television show Dancing with the Stars. Mark danced with fellow DWTS pro Daniela Karagach as his cat girlfriend Imogene. It was a super fast jive with flicks and kicks. But I had seen period footage of jives that involved "aerials" where the partner was thrown into the air. So I decided to not use Mark's jive on the cat, but instead incorporate some crazy jitterbugging and lindy hopping. I found a way for the cats to throw the imogen between their legs and over their heads.

I was really happy that their outlandish dance was so convincing. But I also wanted to use Mark and Daniela's jive dance as a base for the stylish African American patron I designed on the left side of the screen. I was happy to be able to make the animation loose and cartoonish while still capturing Mark's dance. Dan Tanaka did a great job keying the two couples over my rough animation. Ken Slevin did both layout and background work for me. I like how his linear work here blends well with the work of layout leader Jennifer Yuan, who adapted the style of jazz album cover artist David Stone Martin on other key layouts.

Claudio Acciari, who was responsible for the visual development of this shot, drew a thumbnail of a giant rotating hexagon coasting through the shot behind the dancers to "jazz" it up. Ken suggested that instead of a hexagon, it be a jazz LP or 45. He turned a Verve record into a "Verve" and a Fantasia record into a "Fantasia." He also designed the grooves on the records and chose the colors. Then my compositor, Taryn Tanielian (and many others), used After Effects to spin the record and run it through the shot in different paths (the paths were determined after several experiments by Taryn on speed and arc)

Also, my ballroom caricature of my dance instructor, Tami Stevens, was also animated and rotated briefly on the right side of the shot as a shout-out to her. I blow down the animated couple on the left of the screen, and Dan cleaned up their hair and hemlines and reused them on the right. I also decided to make the cat and Imogen partially transparent earlier in the shot, but made them opaque when they crossed in front of the dancer on the left, so that they could still be "clearly read."

Finally, after the left and right couples were painted, Taryn shifted the painted areas to offset their lines as part of Hip's graphic style. Above all, the sweat that went into this work was completely invisible; it was simply a fun kinetic romp, both graphically and in the uninhibitedness of the dancers. I don't want you to see the details of what I have described; I want you to be immersed in the vibrancy and exuberance of the dance. My creative collaborators have helped me a lot to convey exactly that.